Yesterday, Women Work members from across the UK and Ireland descended on the conference centre at Aston University in Birmingham for the annual Women Work conference. Coinciding with International Women’s Day last weekend, the theme for the conference was ‘Balance’ and there were a range of talks and workshops to give great tips on how to achieve a great work/life balance.
Unfortunately, heavy fog caused disruption to many attendees’ travel plans, most notably the keynote speaker, Sophie Bellon who was unable to attend after flights from Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris had been cancelled. In true show-must-go-on spirit, Debbie White stepped up to deliver Sophie’s presentation after Janine McDowell, chair of Women Work, welcomed us all to the event.
Debbie gave us an insight into women’s representation at all levels across the global Sodexo group – did you know that 11 of the Sodexo CEO’s in Europe are women? Gender balance has been a priority on Sodexo’s agenda since 2009, when Michel Landel set clear targets of having 25% female representation at senior level by 2015. In the years since then, enormous strides have been made towards those targets and Debbie provided a number of encouraging statistics – female representation at that level is currently 23% – not far off Michel Landel’s 2015 aim. Positive as that may be, Debbie did sow the seed – Why not 50%? Why not, indeed.
Following Debbie’s talk, a series of workshops took place either side of lunch, with each of us selecting two of the four available workshops.
I opted to try and unravel the mysteries of tweeting, and joined Liz Marlow’s workshop on ‘The Mysterious World of Social Media Explained’. It was really informative (with a very creative use of the “party horn”) and I came away knowing more about my hashtags and “@’s”, as well as about the strategic way in which Sodexo uses social media.
That was followed by a session on networking – Get That Job – delivered by Anita Edmonds from Penna. We discussed what networking is, what skills are required and the gender differences in networking. We also calculated that between all of us in the room we had over 600 working years left – quite an astonishing statistic (try it – consider how many working years you think you still have to go and it’s quite startling).
The other workshops were ‘Work, Family, Diet & Lifestyle – Striking the Right Balance’ (by Wan Mak and Matt Dawson) and Andrew Nicholson’s ‘Mind Games – Using Heuristics and Persuasion Techniques in Business and Play’. Unfortunately I could only attend two so didn’t experience the latter two, but the murmurs I heard afterwards revealed there were some eye-opening facts about units of alcohol, sugar consumption and our subconscious minds (not in the same session of course!)
We all reconvened to hear a thought-provoking session by guest speaker Teresa Mitrovic, Director of Redefining Life, entitled ‘Striking your perfect work/life balance’. Originally from New Zealand, Teresa gave us an insight into her career and the journey she has come on to understand how balance within our lives is possible. She described how the mind, body and our energy all work together, resulting in habits being formed, and gave us tips on managing our own energy and taking control of the balance we strive for in our lives.
The panel discussion that followed covered some pertinent topics – the inevitable future of flexible working; mentoring and sponsorship; quotas for women on boards; the challenge of engaging men in Women Work; unconscious bias; and authentic leadership. The discussion was thought-provoking and raised some controversial and difficult challenges.
The conference concluded with a raffle in which Lynne Mawdsley, CFO, was able to show off her bingo-calling skills while trying to pronounce “an M and M egg” on more than one occasion as she handed out prizes. Sadly, I didn’t win anything in the raffle, but did leave with some new acquaintances, and a plethora of inspiring ideas. The day was a great success, and if I had to pick one statement to sum up its message, it would be Debbie White’s closing remark: “Be authentic in your leadership. Make your workplace an inclusive place to be”.